Most people don’t get enough sleep at night. For many people being sleep deprived means not functioning as well as they could be, but for millions of other people lack of sleep is a sign of a serious health condition.
People who are suffering from exhaustion, high blood pressure and inexplicable headaches are all showing symptoms of a sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Why don’t people with OSA get the sleep that they need every night? The answer may surprise you—it’s snoring!
Snoring causes a person to wake up throughout the night. For most, snoring is simply a case of having to move your body from a bad position into one that’s more comfortable to breathe in. But for the 18 million people in the United States suffering from OSA, snoring is their body’s cry for help. Throughout the night people with OSA literally stop breathing. They stop breathing because the muscles in their mouth, jaw, and throat relax, blocking the free flow of air in the airway. These moments of suffocation can last for up to an entire minute. A person with OSA wakes up hundreds of times during a single night as their bodies try not to suffocate. Snoring is their body’s only way to get enough air to breathe.
The result is that when people with OSA get out of bed in the morning, they feel like they haven’t slept at all. And it’s true—they have not had a full sleep cycle. Not only are their bodies exhausted, they have opened up an entire range of new health problems that are associated with this extreme sleep loss, including heart attacks, depression, strokes, memory loss, acid reflux and diabetes.
In the past, there weren’t that many treatment options available for people with sleep apnea. They could go and get an expensive diagnosis, and then drop several thousand dollars visiting a sleep clinic that would require an annoying overnight visit. One of the possible outcomes for such patients would be having to strap themselves into a CPAP breathing device for the entire night—that’s one of those breathing masks attached to an explosive tank next to your bed. Or worse, they would have to undergo a painful and invasive surgery.